Anti-measles campaign saves seven million lives

A global campaign to eliminate measles has cut deaths from the disease by 60 per cent in six years - saving more than seven million lives, doctors report today.

The disease, one of the biggest killers of children in the developing world, claimed 873,000 lives in 1999 but that fell to 354,000 in 2005, according to a joint report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef.

Public health specialists hailed the success of the campaign, launched in 2001, which exceeded its target to halve deaths from the disease by 2005.

Forty years after measles vaccination was introduced, the WHO and Unicef have set a new target to reduce deaths by 90 per cent by 2010 from the level in 2000. They say it may even be possible to eliminate the disease.

"The main barriers remain the high infectivity of the virus (thus high vaccine coverage is needed) and appropriate strategies and resources to reach most vulnerable groups," they report in The Lancet journal.

Measles was the single most lethal infectious agent in the world until a vaccination against it was introduced in 1963. In the early 1960s, the disease claimed six million lives yearly and there were as many as 135 million cases.

Parents in Western countries where vaccination is well established are barely conscious of the threat. But in many parts of Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent, the disease is widely, and rightly, feared.

It suppresses the immune system, making victims already weakened by hunger, poverty or disease susceptible to complications. Pneumonia, diarrhoea and acute encephalitis are responsible for millions of measles-related deaths.

The introduction of vaccination to developing countries in the 1980s cut the death rate to an estimated 1.9 million in 1987, according to WHO estimates. During the 1990s, a target of delivering at least one dose of vaccine to at least 80 per cent of children aged nine months was set.

But by 2000, public health experts realised that despite the availability of a cheap, safe, effective vaccine for over four decades, measles still remained a child killer on a grand scale.

To tackle the problem, the WHO and Unicef targeted 45 countries hardest hit by the disease. The strategy involved ensuring high coverage of measles vaccination, a second measles jab for all children at school age to protect those who did not respond to the first dose, close monitoring of measles cases to respond to outbreaks and improved care of those with the disease.

Lara Wolfson, of the Initiative for Vaccine Research at the WHO in Geneva, and her colleagues, say in The Lancet that almost 7.5 million lives have been saved during the six years of the campaign. Cases of the disease fell 81 per cent in the western Pacific and by 75 per cent in Africa.

"If political will and financial commitments to achieving this goal are maintained and innovative strategies for linking delivery of measles vaccine with other child survival interventions (eg insecticide- treated bed nets) there is good reason to believe that this new target [of 90 per cent] can be met," they say.

Experts believe that measles could follow smallpox, which was eliminated in 1977. The disease does not infect animals and does not exist in a chronic form - it is caused by a single stable virus and there is a safe, effective vaccine against it. These four features "make elimination feasible," say David Elliman and Helen Bedford, ofGreat Ormond Street Hospital in London.

In a commentary in The Lancet they add that delivering vaccination as part of a wider strategy to treat childhood illness offers the best hope of achieving the Millennium Development Goal to reduce child mortality by two thirds by 2015 from the level in 1990.

"This more holistic approach helps to address the five conditions that make up 70 per cent of deaths in children younger than five years - respiratory infections, diarrhoea, measles, malaria and malnutrition ... The goal [of cutting these deaths by two thirds] is not only a moral imperative, but also in everybody's best long-term interests," they wrote.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: AV Installation Engineer

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Care Support Workers

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this care company base...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent